The Holden Monaro 427C - Australia's Homegrown GT Monster

The Australian automotive industry is an oddity in the global scheme of things. A small buying population, the most brands per head of population, and innovations not seen elsewhere, make it virtually unique.

Although we weren’t the first to build a car with a hardtop and two doors, we certainly made some great ones. Ford, Chrysler, Mitsubishi, and Holden all have cars that are memorable and one that stands out was the Monaro 427C. 

Designed, engineered, and built in Australia, this car was intended to be a track weapon and race in the Bathurst 24 Hour. The first of these races was set to run in late 2002, meaning the development of the car, slated to run in 2003, had to be brought forward. 

The heartbeat of the 427C was its US sourced 7.0L or 427cid V8. With the Holden Racing Team turning down the offer of developing the machine, Garry Rogers Motorsport (GRM) took the Chevrolet Corvette C5-R engine, a Monaro body, and the responsibility of running the 427C as a race car. 

The car would later be a controversial one; the race would attract cars from outside Australia such as Lamborghini’s Diablo GTR, Ferrari’s 360 N-GT, and the monstrous Chrysler Viper ACR. All of these cars would race with the same engine they would come off the production line with. However, the Monaro at the time came with Chev’s fabled 350cid or 5.7L V8, and therefore would be ineligible to run. However, the organiser of the race, which would come under the umbrella of a racing group called Procar, allowed the Monaro to be run with the bigger engine to be seen as more competitive with capacities such as the 8.0L V10 in the Viper.

As the race was going to be run under the then current GT regulations, GRM had to design a body kit to suit both the regulations and the aerodynamics of the VX Commodore based two door. Using the V8 Supercars design as a basis, GRM fitted a wider rear wing that sat below the car’s roofline, as per the regulations. A similar front air dam was fitted to the front, and underneath the 427C utilized a number of components that could be found on a Supercar. 

A technically minded casual observer would see a Hollinger six speed manual transmission, wheels of 18 x 11 and 18 x 13 inches, MacPherson strut front suspension and a trailing arm rear, bolted to coil springs and thick anti-roll bars. The engine was said to be good for 600 ponies (447kW) and would be bolted into the front of a car weighing 1,400 kilograms. 

All up the Monaro 427C would be 4789mm in length, run a front and rear track of 1559mm/1577mm, and roll on a wheelbase of 2788mm. The aero package provided plenty of down-force and made for a stable on track racer. 

Raced at the 2002 Bathurst 24 Hour by a team of four drivers, being Garth Tander, Nathan Pretty, Steven Richards, and Cameron McConville, the car was also being touted as being available as a road car. The race car itself would prove to be strong, durable, and a race winner. Although despite suffering a flat tyre and a collision with another car, the car would ultimately win in its debut race by 24 laps.

As a road car, it was potentially to be powered by a 433kW version of the 427cid engine. But, as a business case, the numbers simply didn’t add up and would result in a mooted buy price of $215,000 being out of reach of its intended market. Just two road going cars, and just four race cars, would be built.

The Monaro 427C would go on to compete in the Australian Nations Cup Championship in 2003, and the Bathurst 24 Hour race in the same year. A second race car had been built by then. Driven by Peter Brock, Jason Bright, Todd Kelly, and Greg Murphy, the car would win by just 0.3035 of a second. Tander, driving the 2002 winning vehicle, was thwarted in a last sector charge by a yellow flag thanks to a car close to the racing line.

The 427C would race in 2004 and see a third chassis completed, before the Nations Cup category collapsed due to fiscal issues. With regulations reverting to GT Championship rules in 2005, the Monaro 427C was deemed ineligible. Of the race cars, one is with a private collector, one is in the Bathurst Motor Museum, and little if anything is known of the locations of the others.  

A Brief History of Cheating in Motorsports

Human nature is one of the most diverse things we see on planet earth. Sadly, not all of human nature is benign, good, warm, welcoming. One of the negatives we exhibit is called cheating. Be it at school, on our partner, at work, it’s an undesirable trait.

But in motorsport? Yes, it happens. All too often. And it happens worldwide. It happens in rallying. It happens in Formula 1. It happens in IndyCar. It happened here in Australia.

America’s NASCAR was full of innovative people. At one time they had specified a maximum size for the fuel tank. A “clever” interpretation of the rules has Smokey Yunick fit a fuel hose that was eleven feet long and two inches thick. As a result, his car’s overall fuel capacity was increased. Ynick also sidestepped the rules by having an oversized tank fitted but with an inflated basketball inside. This allowed the tank to be filled to more than the regulated amount once the ball was deflated.

Tim Flock decided on a different way to improve the fuel economy of his NASCAR. His steel roll cage wasn’t steel. It looked like steel, but close inspection had a wooden structure smartly painted to resemble steel.

Australia’s royal motorsport name was involved in a somewhat cheeky cheat in 1981. Fabled F1 designer Gordon Murray built a car for the Brabham team that had adjustable ride height. When cars are scrutineered there’s a set ride height they have to adhere to. Murray built in a system that would lower the car under that ride height but would raise it back to the required amount when stopped. Murray’s sense of humour was brought into play by having a box with leads that would attach to the car, for no reason other than to visually distract onlookers, placed at random locations on the car when stopped.

Another entry from NASCAR with Ken Schrader finding his tyre wear exceeding the ability of the car to deal with it. Although leading a race, the second place car was closing rapidly. A quick thinking Schrader discharged his fire suppressant system and the second car’s driver, thinking Schrader’s car engine was about to explode, backed off. The canny Schrader timed this well enough for his lead to get him over the line for a win, with his car in perfect working order.

Japanese goliath Toyota dominated the world rally scene with its awesome and aggressive looking all wheel drive Celica. Complete with huge rear wing, quad headlight front, and legal turbocharger…wait, did I say legal turbocharger? 1995 and the car is dominating the rally world. The WRC had stated a maximum horsepower output of 300. Toyota had abided by the rules that stated a restrictor plate must be fitted inside the turbo.

What they also interpreted was that the regulations said nothing about the restrictor plate having to stay in one spot. Some brilliant engineering had the plate being moved by springs that allowed extra power to be generated, with an estimated fifty extra horsepower. The design of the turbo was such that a thorough pull-down of it was required to see the plate and even then this appeared almost as it should be.

Australia’s great race, the Bathurst 1000, closes out this quick look at motorsport cheating. The 1987 race was won by the stove hot Ford Sierras. Factory supported they were quick, at times almost undriveable according to Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe, but a little bit of physics came in to play for the win. Larger tyres cover more distance for little extra effort and the first two cars, both from the same team, were found to have enlarged wheel arches at the front, allowing a bigger rolling diameter tyre.

Subsequent investigation and appeals against the team had them disqualified, handing the win to the third placed team. That team was from HDT and the car was driven by David Parsons, Peter McLeod, and one Peter James Brock. The win, under less than ideal circumstances, gave the great PB his ninth and ultimately final ATCC win at The Mountain.

Do you know any ingenious tales of people skirting the rules in motorsports? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below this article.  

Beginners Guide to getting into Motorsport – Part 2

In the first part of our article about how to enter motorsport, we finished with some hints about obtaining the relevant license to getting into entry level motorsport.

There are those that have both the time and monetary resources to drive their private car in track days. And here, setting a budget to get into motorsport should not be overlooked. Generally no license is required for some of these but a waiver is required to be signed before going onto the tarmac. There’s cost effective Formula Ford, Formula Vee, and HQ Holden racing, even the Excel racing class. There are also regularity events, where a time is nominated and the car is driven on the track to try and meet, as best as possible, that nominated time. A minimum license requirement is here. And for many, this is as far as they may wish to go.

There’s also a question of support. Not only does a prospective driver need to be aware that not always will there be obvious support, there may be, sadly, detractors that go out of their way to slow you down.

However there are those that have just started their journey, taken another path, or have raced in numerous categories and now race competitively in events such as the Phillip island Classic. We spoke to three such drivers: karter Hugh Barter, respected motorsports commentator Greg Rust, and Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe.

Greg Rust.

Greg Rust, Rusty or Thrusta as he’s known, has the pleasure of being a motorsports commentator that’s come from a racing background. As is the case with so many, Rusty started off with go-karting, piloting an 80cc Tony kart. The powerplant came from Japanese motorbike maker Yamaha and had a manual transmission. Rusty says he remembers driving the little machine on the now gone Amaroo and Oran Park circuits, along with the existing Eastern Creek raceway track.

However it was rallying that bit, and bit hard. Along with some pals from high school, a warmed over Mitsubishi Galant from the late 1970s was bought. Sporting some upgrades in the form of twin Weber carbies and a sports exhaust system, the car was entered at Supersprints at Amaroo, rallied in the western fringes of the Blue Mountains at Oberon and the beautiful Jenolan Caves area, and lead to some silverware being proudly displayed in the Rust home.

Backing up the involvement with CAMS, Rusty says: “So I’m a BIG believer in joining a CAMS affiliated club. Get a license and, for not a lot of money really, you can get something for club competition. The best part is competing & socialising with friends around this kind of motorsport and tinkering in the garage on the car between events.”

Rusty also points out that getting into motorsport is just the first step, but which way from there? There’s no doubt that driver training with experienced and qualified drivers will provide plenty of assistance but if there’s no goal to kick at, what can this training ultimately deliver?

Rusty advises perhaps doing what Australian F1 driver Mark Webber did: lay out a plan to aim for the goal but look at paths to the side if that goal proves to be out of reach. Rusty himself followed those guidelines early in his racing and rallying career and is now “part of the furniture” when it comes to motorsport broadcasting. However starting at the bottom can take you into areas never thought possible. Greg is also an in demand host at corporate events and has a successful podcast.

He says: “Finally you need good communication skills. Media Training is a must if you are serious. And you need to understand the business of the sport too. Be self starting. Work hard....bloody hard! And while the focus is what you do in the car, what you do out of it may end being where you spend the greater percentage of your time and it will prove instrumental in helping to open the right doors.”

It’s crucial to note this final piece of advice. If you are looking to make a career out of motorsport, and the success comes from hard work, being able to deal with the media, such as Hugh, Greg, and John do, will need to be part of the plan. One bloke that knows both sides of the media fence is John Bowe.

John Bowe.

Our own Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe is a natural fit for anything to do with motorsport. Thanks to a career spanning thirty five years, “JB” is well placed for gaining insight into what a driver that wants to race should consider.

John is well known not just for being a talented driver, but for his approachability and warm personality. It’s this latter point that John encourages in drivers wishing to be seen. John grew up in a family that already had ties to motorsport, however he pointed out that this can mean very little. Another well known Australian driver was mentioned and John asked him if his 11yo son had shown any interest in becoming a driver. The answer was “not really”.

John uses this to point out any aspiring driver must have a love, a passion, for the sport. “I started racing because I loved it” says John. There were no plans at an early age to become a Formula 1 driver or Australian champion, he drove in motorsport because he loved it.

John in no way discounts the natural ability in drivers, saying that there has been plenty he’s seen that are very, very, good, however the fire that got them to where they were was, in too many instances, extinguished because of a few speed-humps that had occurred. His point here was that in motorsport the balance between the good and the bad must be taken, and not to let some downsides override the passion that’s needed. Resilience is a key factor.

Personality is one of JB’s strong points and this personality had one of the greats of Australian motorsport, Gary Cooper of Elfin fame, take John under his wing and provide some opportunities that may not have otherwise been available. JB was at pains to point that if this hadn’t occurred he would have been happy to have raced constantly in his home state of Tasmania due to his passion and love of motorsport and not have travelled overseas to race.

John used this experience to highlight an easily overlooked factor for new drivers: coaching. Unlike a potential tennis champion, swimming champion, or golfer, motorsport doesn’t really have that one on one approach. Data acquisition and the ability to work with that, says John, in categories such as Formula Ford, is very important. But as to advice? John recalls one such situation at Perth’s Barbagallo Raceway, formerly known as Wanneroo Park. John was a relative rookie at the time and was campaigning with Larry Perkins. JB asked Perkins about which gear he was using in a particular corner. Larry’s advice was simple: “Go and try it for yourself.” This backs up John’s point about having that inner fire and desire.

A unique point that John raised was about the European theatre. The home of Formula 1, there’s been numerous Australian drivers that have taken aim at cracking open the door to get a seat, however the burgeoning South East Asian race scene shouldn’t be overlooked for a driver’s overseas aspirations.

John wrapped up his points by looping back to personality. This came in the context of marketability. John’s presence in the Australian motoring scene and his association with Rare Spares isn’t solely down to his driving history. By being a driver that is friendly, greetable and meetable, and is able to be media savvy and aware, such as the points Greg Rust raised, there’s a higher probability of overcoming perhaps the biggest single obstacle in Australian motorsport, the funds to go racing. JB says: “There’s no such thing as a free seat anymore.” Sponsors are looking to maximize exposure to their brand and a driver that’s looking to make a presence will have more chance of sponsorship and exposure.

It’s easy to see that getting a foot in the door of Australian motorsport for a beginner driver isn’t complicated. But thanks to the input from three drivers at varying points in their career, a timeline for where you want that open door to take you is important, plans for where you may wish to go if the driving side doesn’t pan out need to be considered, and to take the good with the bad no matter your inherent ability can be crucial.

A big thanks to Hugh Barter, Greg Rust, and Rare Spares ambassador John Bowe for their time and assistance.

Beginners Guide to getting into Motorsport – Part 1

Lowndes. Webber. Whincup. Schumacher. Vettel. Ricciardo. Drivers that are involved in the top levels of motorsport internationally and locally. They all have one other thing in common. They all started at the bottom of the ladder in the competitive driving sense.

Around the world drivers of young ages are learning the basics of how to drive in motorsport. They may be in a basic single cylinder go-kart at their local outdoor track. They may be at a circuit listening in to their older brother or sister providing feedback on how the last drive in the Formula Ford or Formula Vee has gone. They could be an apprentice wielding the spanner in a team, talking to the driver of the Production Touring Car about how a change of shock absorber could help handling, or sitting in a seat, playing a race simulator in VR. 

Thankfully, a huge bank balance isn’t required to get into the driver’s seat in motorsport. In Australia there are Superkarts with single and twin cylinder engines, Formula Ford and Formula Vee remain a strong and cost effective entry point, and even the venerable HQ Holden has a category at a budget per year that would pay for a team dinner in an F1 team. 

 

But it’s not simply a matter of rocking up to a race track, strapping in, and going. CAMS have different entry methods including a temporary license for what’s called a “Come and Try Day”. They are a single use license and are designed to encourage those that wish to go further to progress to a higher qualification.

Come And Try Days are perhaps the best form of path into motorsport purely because some people believe they’ll be fine behind the wheel on a dedicated racetrack. Another option is to try a session with a dedicated category. Formula Ford is recognized worldwide as the best path and in Australia there are quite a few options.

There are companies that utilise race tracks to provide a driving experience and one example is Sydney Motorsport Park’s Formula Ford Experience. At varying costs a driver can start with five laps of the circuit, gaining experience and receiving tuition. Explanations on how the chassis works, the best points to brake and accelerate, are given by qualified instructors that more often than not are current or recently retired drivers.

Crucial to getting on any race track is obtaining the appropriate license. CAMS suggest this for starters.

There are two types of Level 2 licences - Non Speed (L2NS) and Speed (L2S).

  • A L2NS licence entitles the competitor to compete in events such as observed section trials, touring assemblies, non-timed road events, motorkhanas, khanacross and drifting events, up to International level.
  • A L2S licence entitles the holder to compete in L2NS events plus regularity trials up to National Championship level, single and multi-car speed events (not racing) up to International level, and touring road events that do not run over closed road sections.

CAMS themselves are based in offices around the country and can be contacted from here: https://www.cams.com.au/

Some circuits also offer meetings where a potential official or driver can visit the track and meet people that are employed to work with and assist drivers. Sydney Motorsport Park runs such a program and is called Startline: https://www.sydneymotorsportpark.com.au/startline-by-ardc/

However, getting into a driver’s seat from an entry level point of view needs an entry level driver to explain more.

In the second part of this look at entering motorsport, we’ll be talking to two more names that have had varying paths into motorsport. There’s the popular John Bowe, our Rare Spares ambassador, motorsport commentator and experienced competitive driver Greg Rust, but to kick off, here is a dedicated young driver and kart racer, Hugh Barter.

Hugh Barter.

It’s often said that to be the best driver, you have to be a young driver. Hugh Barter is an embodiment of this. Still a few months shy of his twelfth birthday, Hugh has more racing experience in a decade than many will have in a lifetime.

This Japanese born talent first clapped eyes on something motorsport related at the age of three. Attending a V8 Supercars round at Victoria’s fabulous Phillip Island circuit, a racing simulator caught his attention. Minutes later, and with some assistance to help his small frame fit the setup, Hugh was belting around a simulated Mt Panorama. When Hugh had finished the crowd that had gathered applauded, knowing that something special had just happened under their very eyes.

Flash forward a couple of years and young Barter, by way of a games console and driving rig, was ready to take the next step. A go-kart was a fifth birthday present and at the age of seven, a go-kart license was acquired.

It’s here that Hugh’s entry experience offers up two different looks at the same end object. Hugh says that he gained a karting license and a CAMS backed license. Hugh joined an affiliated car club and registered with CAMS for the non speed license as mentioned in part one. This was, says Hugh, more cost effective than the alternate route taken, with a difference of nearly $800.

Where Hugh follows the path that many successful drivers have driven is in setting out a timeline. With a clear hit rate in meeting his goals so far, Hugh’s eye to the future is on entering Formula Ford, with a move to Europe to race in Formula Renault penciled in as well. Next stop? Formula 1.

Hugh’s well on his way to achieving that goal with consistently high levels of results from racing in the Cadet series in go-karts. Spread across Cadet 9 and Cadet 12 (age requirements),the karts Hugh had raced were these however he has moved into the next level, called Juniors with the age group of 12 to 16. The Cadets are small in size and engine output at 8hp, with the Junior’s specs capped at 11hp but are ideal for the age groups and provide theoretically equal performance. And it’s that last word that brings in another aspect of looking into entry level racing: sponsorship.

Top end race drivers are covered in sponsorship thanks to their levels of performance, and here the budgetary aspects of motorsport dovetail with sponsorship. Not only will sponsorship help drivers like Hugh achieve their goals, it aligns companies with the sport itself which are then seen by prospective drivers.

Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, which will be released in coming weeks. Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and tell us about your motorsport aspirations.

A look at John Bowe’s On-Track achievements

Rare Spares Brand Ambassador and Australian Motorsport icon, John Bowe, was recently inducted into the Australian Motorsport Hall of Fame, joining names such as Brock, Webber and Brabham on the illustrious list. Throughout his hugely successful career, Bowe’s resume stacks up against some of the greatest in the history of the sport. In this article, we’ll take a quick look back at a few of the highlights on Australian shores throughout his career (so far!).

Back-to-Back Australian Drivers Championships

In the mid 80’s Bowe went on a tear through the 1984 & 1985 Australian Drivers Championships behind the wheel of a Cosworth powered Ralt RT4, winning 9 of a possible 12 races across the two year span. The two championships really kickstarted a career that would result in him becoming the only person in history to win the Australian Drivers Championship, Australian Sports Car Championship and Australian Touring Car Championship.

Bathurst victories with Dick Johnson

Bowe joined forces with Dick Johnson to take victory on the mountain on two occasions. First in 1989 behind the wheel of the light switch powered Ford Sierra RS500 Cosworth, and the second occasion in 1994 in the Ford EB Falcon. The Sierra was so hit and miss that the DJR cars were almost guaranteed of victory provided they made it to the finish line. The duo qualified on pole and led almost every single lap around the mountain to earn Bowe’s first Bathurst victory. In 1994 the team came from 10th on the grid to victory after Johnson had a mishap during Saturday’s Top Ten Shootout – a very impressive performance!

1995 Australian Touring Car Championship

The 1995 ATCC driver lineup reads as a ‘who’s who’ of Australia’s most talented racing drivers with names such as Brock, Seton, Perkins, Johnson, Skaife, Crompton and Richards gracing the starter’s flag each weekend. None were a match for Bowe and his Shell Racing DJR EF Falcon, who went on to win four events to win the title by an impressive 27 points over Glenn Seton at years end.

2014 Bathurst 12 Hour Victory

In 2014 John Bowe joined forces with Craig Lowndes, Mika Salo and Peter Edwards to win what as at the time the fastest Bathurst 12 Hour yet. Behind the wheel of their Ferrari 458 GT3 the team completed 296 laps to beat out a number of highly touted local and international teams. The win came in Bowe’s 29th consecutive year racing at the famed circuit.

What do you consider John Bowe’s greatest motorsport achievement? Head over to the Rare Spares Facebook page and let us know in the comments section below.